Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy
These days, “families” are no longer exclusively a father, mother and kids. A “family” is any two or more people living together with love and support, finding their way through life together. When there are two partnered adults, that’s a couple.

But if there is at least one adult and one child, the task is to lovingly support the child(ren) through  growth, learning, acquiring self-discipline and self-discovery. There might be one parent with (a) child(ren), divorced parents sharing custody, kids raised by two mothers or two fathers, by other family members, blended families or foster families.

Despite the fact that the goals for getting kids from infancy to adulthood are remarkably similar for everyone, every family gets there in their own fashion.

In some families it works relatively smoothly, and children go through the predictable stages fairly easily. By the time kids become teens, most families will have experienced at least a few times when adults and kids feel at odds with each other—usually transitional periods when everyone has to rework how they understand being together. But sometimes things get stuck, and there is tension, anger or suffering rather than the expected progressions.

These are the occasions when parents become anxious, wondering what to do, and kids feel a lack of certainty as well. Parents might withdraw out of frustration, and consequently the kids miss their usual restraints, and even more challenging situations develop. It’s very easy to get stuck in escalating cycles of anger, yelling, rebellion, and feelings of desperation.

These are delicate times—when teens still want parents to be there, but due to their need to achieve independence, will fight off parental efforts to guide them. Also parents may become discouraged or angry when kids start digging in their heels, and stand-offs or power struggles develop.

Even in families with the best of intentions, misunderstandings among different generations happen easily, and can escalate with kids becoming angry, sullen or misbehaving, and frustrated parents who don’t always know how to change what is happening. If the struggles are quickly worked through, families usually make out ok. But if they become long-standing, and negative attitudes toward each other become the norm rather than an occasional position, people feel chronically angry or hurt.

Kids are less likely to talk about their feelings than to behave in ways that will grab attention. Sometimes the parents have tried everything they can, but not knowing how to guide their children through rough patches despite their best efforts, just give up and hope the kids will turn out ok in the long run.

Optimally, these times of opposition and misunderstandings can be growth experiences. Kids have to learn how to eventually get along with all sorts of people, and parents are, after all, people.

But some situations have become so entrenched that the value of working through the tough times gets missed because there is so much suffering. This is when family psychotherapy can be helpful. If you feel your family might be helped in this way, make an appointment for an evaluation where you can discuss your needs and goals.

Kathi Whitten copyright 2009